Cabrini teens volunteering at Catholic Charities’ Bishop Conway Residence for low-income seniors in Chicago provided a luau party for the independent and assisted living senior residents. The teen volunteers include Allison Surma (front row left), 15, of Allen Park; Paige Kulchinsky, 15, of Inkster; Cabrini Youth Minister Therese Tardiff of Allen Park; Trever Chidester, 17, of Allen Park; Danielle Misovich (back row left), 17, of Dearborn; Darcy Vines, 17, of Allen Park; and Kareigh Tieppo, 17, of Allen Park.
By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
ALLEN PARK – When teens from St. Frances Cabrini Parish and Cabrini High School in Allen Park traveled to Chicago during the recent July heat wave, they weren’t cooling off at Navy Pier or in an air conditioned hotel room.
Instead they were sleeping on air mattresses in a church parish building cooled by portable fans when they weren’t helping others during the day or learning about social justice in the evening.
“It’s hard. People think we’re crazy because we spend $400 to go serve and sometimes the accommodations aren’t the greatest,” said Emily Forristel, an incoming senior at Cabrini High School, and a veteran of three mission trips. “I’m giving up my time and my money to do something like this, but most of the time you have an experience that changes your life and it’s worth it.”
Cabrini’s parish youth ministry program, led by Youth Minister Therese Tardiff of Allen Park, took 21 teens and four adults chaperones to Chicago July 17 to 23, while youth ministry volunteer and coordinator Tim Kozlo of Allen Park took 21 teens and five adults the same week to Cincinnati. Each group took four minivans and a vehicle for luggage.
Cabrini teens in Chicago worked with teen volunteers and adult chaperones from Ohio, Wisconsin, Maryland and even from Chicago. She added that most mission trip sites accommodate 80 to 85 volunteers from all over the country for a week of service.
The majority of the teens on Cabrini parish’s mission trip were Cabrini High School students but the trip was open to all parish high school youth.
Cabrini High School requires 12 hours of volunteer service each school year, six of which must be spent in direct service to people in need.
Each teen was responsible for raising the $400 cost of their trip. To offset the costs, the parish sponsored fundraisers, like a pancake breakfast, pumpkin patch sale and bottle drives. Teens also had the chance to work concessions at area sports arenas, which set aside booths for non-profit group fundraising. Tardiff said, however, that most of the teens paid for part of the trip expenses on their own.
Students on the mission trips took part in programs sponsored by the Center for Ministry Development of Gig Harbor, Wash., an independent, non-profit Catholic organization whose purpose is to help faith communities practice their beliefs in new ways.
One of their programs, Young Neighbors in Action, is a week-long service and learning experience for high school teens designed as a combination of direct hands-on service experience, Catholic social teaching and service learning.
The service work may involve direct service work in soup kitchens, homeless shelters or other agencies that ease people’s immediate needs. It could also involve repair projects for non-profit agencies that serve at-risk populations, or on actual physical projects that create resources, like Habitat for Humanity or Community Development Corporations.
Tardiff led a group of six Cabrini teens during the day at Catholic Charities’ Bishop Conway Residence, an independent and assisted living center for low-income seniors on the northwest side of Chicago.
“The idea then is they go during the day and they do their work,” Tardiff said. “Then they have an evening program… based on social justice and the teachings of the church, the seven principles of Catholic social teaching.”
She said that they use a simulation game to help teens understand about injustices and obstacles that people living below the poverty level must overcome such as transportation, obtaining food and going through social services organizations.
“They’re actually having an experience of what it means to be poor or underprivileged or suffer,” Tardiff said.
Kariegh Tieppo, who will be a senior at the parish’s high school this fall, didn’t know what to expect on her first mission trip and was surprised by how much fun she had.
“I was really excited, I just didn’t know what to expect and where I was going,” Tieppo said. “I was kind of scared because I was going to be working with older people and older people kind of scare me sometimes. But I really connected with a lot of people there and it was really awesome.”
Beca Maynor, who will be a senior at Cabrini H.S. in the fall, has also been on three mission trips to Chicago, Buffalo, N.Y. and St. Louis. She said she initially went to earn service hours and ended up having a lot of fun.
“It’s just a good time. You get to spend the whole week with your friends, and you really do get something out of it even if you’re not the most spiritual person,” Maynor said.
The teens who volunteered in Chicago had a “fun night” the Wednesday of their trip and went to a Lake Michigan beach.
On Thursday night the Chicago group learned more about the Latino culture of the population they were serving, dined on Mexican food and learned Salsa dancing. They also learned about immigration challenges between the United States and Latin America.
Forristel said she was inspired by how much the work means to the people they serve. She volunteered at St. Malachy Parish, the first predominantly black parish on Chicago’s west side. She helped with clean-up projects inside the parish buildings.
“Most of the time it’s really inspiring how much it means to somebody that you’re doing something so simple, it kind of changes the way you do things,” Forristel said. “Freshman year we went to a soup kitchen, and we didn’t realize how important those meals were to those people because that’s not exactly a problem we have. But it really helps you empathize with people who have basically nothing.”
Steve Brehmer, an incoming senior at Cabrini, also worked at St. Malachy where the group helped the new pastor make room for a food pantry and soup kitchen.
“I went to St. Malachy… (and did) tedious manual labor,” Brehmer said. “We moved a lot of furniture, we busted down some cabinets, and did yard work… it needed some TLC.”
The group that accompanied Kozlo to Cincinnati worked with the Cincinnati Housing Partners, a non-profit housing and community development organization that helps revitalize neighborhoods and bring stability to rental families.
“Every year it’s amazing to see the amount of work that these young people do in these various organizations,” Kozlo said. “Like they said, they were doing tedious work, but that was work that they probably never could have gotten done without a group like that… it seems tedious to us but it’s so important to them.”